Mere Rhetoric

And today we have news: ast week something finally happened, something I always dreamed of, ever since I was 18 years old—I got called up for jury duty. I’m thrilled to be able to do my civic duty, not just because since I was 18 years old I’ve been mainlining old episodes of Law and Order, but also because because it gives me a front row seat to the world of forsensic rhetoric. Today on Mere rhetoric, we’re going to talk about the illustrious history of forsensic rhetoric. But first just a reminder that you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, or follow us on twitter at mererhetoricked (that’s mererhetoric followed by a ked) or email us at mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com.

 

Ok, so when we think about rhetoric, we often think of it as a foil to philosophy. Something completely unrelated to everyday life, abstract and smartsy-artsy. But for the ancient greeks, rhetoric was a cold, hard necessity. The Ancient Greeks of around 467 BC were a litigious group, constantly hauling each other into court. It was one of the great things about having such awell developed government, that you could drag your neighbor into court and get some money out of them. But in ancient Greece you didn’t have a professional corp of lawyers to fight your battles for you. If you were going to sue your neighbor, you were suing your neighbor and you had to make a case and that meant you had to give a good argument.

 

Rhetoric historian George A Kennedy even claims that rhetoric as an art arose because of this legal imperative. He writes, "Citizens found themselves involved in litigation... and were forced to take up their own cases before the courts. A few clever Sicilians developed simple techniques for effective presentation and argumentation in the law courts and taught them to others” "Anyone reading the classical rhetorics soon discovers that the branch of rhetoric that received the most attention was the judicial, the oratory of the courtroom. Litigations in court in Greece and Rome were an extremely common experience for even the ordinary free citizen--usually the male head of a household--and it was a rare citizen who did not go to court at least a half a dozen times during the course of his adult life. Moreover, the ordinary citizen was often expected to serve as his own advocate before a judge or jury. The ordinary citizen did not possess the comprehensive knowledge of the law and its technicalities that the professional lawyer did, but it was greatly to his advantage to have a general knowledge of the strategies of defense and prosecution. As a result the schools of rhetoric did a flourishing business in training the layperson to defend himself in court or to prosecute an offending neighbor."
(Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors

 

and so rhetoric came to the Greeks. Teaching other people how to argue their own cases was the first form of rhetorical education.

 

Eventually, the greeks came up with the idea of the logographer. So since you have to give your own case, the courts allowed you to get help from one and only one friend or relative….or professional ringer. The logographer would hear your case and write a speech written in your voice and then you would memorize the speech so that you could present it in court. People who knew you well might be surprised at how elquant and wise you sounded, but it might help you win the case after all.

 

Some of the best rhetoricians of the ancient world did stints as logographers. Demosthenes, the rabble-rouser who almost toppled Alexander the Great, was a logographer, as was the great rhetoric teacher Isocrates. Lysias, the orartor who inspired Plato’s Phaedrus, was a logographer, too, and Antiphon. So logography has a long and nobel tradition, even though it was, essentially like getting your speech written by a professional ringer. Arguments were made in the ancient world, like now, that there was something unfair about the way that rich people could buy the best defense. Many of the ancient complaints against rhetoric, like those made by Socrates in the gorgia, were against logographer’s ability to write as good of an argument against a position as for it. When a logographer could be hired for the defense or the prosecution, they weren’t perceived as sincere as someone who was arguing in court about their own life, property and freedom.

 

 

And what might go into Athenian forensic thetoric? What were those logographers writing? Well, to understand that, you have to understand a few things about Law and Order: Athens. First, this was a trial by jury, but it wasn’t necessary people like me getting called up for jury selection. People volunteered to be on a jury, because you did get paid. It wasn’t enough to volunteer, though you had to be selected. But sometimes it wasn’t necessarily selective. There could be hundreds of jurors on a jury—up to 500! And the jury had a lot of power—the judge didn’t decide the trial outcome at all, only the jury. So in appealing to a jury, you were appealing to a large group of people, a lot like making a political speech, really. In Athenian justice, reputation meant a lot to these juries, so many of the witnesses were just good and/or famous people brought it in say that they did or didn’t think the plaintiff did it—regardless of whether they were actually an eyewitness. It also helped to have some graphic description of the wrong done and make appeals to the common man—these jurors did want to be entertained while they decided after all.

 

Some great early pieces of rhetoric were, in fact, legal speeches. In some cases we don’t know whether these speeches were actually ever used in court or if they were used for demonstrating a logographer or rhetoric teacher’s ability. For example, Isocrates wrote “real” forensic pieces like “Against Lochites, Aegineticus, Against Euthynus, Trapeziticus, Span of Horses, and Callimachus.” Even though he always said that he wasn’t fit for the court. He may have been working as a logographer for someone else, or they might not have been cases that were actually tried. Some of these court cases are pretty crazy, showing how you didn’t have to be famous to sue someone. The speech against Lochites - where "a man of the people" irX1790vs is the speaker - exhibits much rhetorical skill. The speech about the horses concerns An Athenian citizen had complained that Alcibiades had robbed him of a team of four horses, and sues the statesman's son and namesake (who is the speaker) for their value.

 

Isocrates also wrote faux forencis speeches.“Against the Sophists” and “Antidosis” defend his character and profession against imaginary lawsuits. Forencis examples were common for a rhetorician to show off his capacities in what kind of defendents he could write for and one popular form of rhetoric was to write a defense of someone who isn’t actually going to see the inside of a court room, or to write a legal argument for a case long settled. Students of rhetoric, too, engaged in a lot of forensic rhetoric. The progymnasmata, or series of exercises used in training a young rhetor, included crucial steps of defending or protesting a law and writing definitions of what is and isn’t just. Forensic rhetoric drove rhetorical education forward.

 

Eventually legal speeches became a clear genre of rhetoric, one of several. By the time Aristotle writes On Rhetoric, legal, or forsencic rhetoric is, along with deliberartive and epideictic one of the three major categories of rhetoric that Artistotle classifies. Aristotle spends 6 chapter discussing forensic rhetoric. At the beginning he sets up the primary “means or persuasion” in forensic rhetoric. He suggests 3 things need to be considered: “1. For what purposes persons do wrong 2. How these persons are mentally disposed 3. What kind of persons they wrong and what these persons are like.” He also explores abstract ideas like what kind of wrongs are being done when someone breaks the law, and The Koinon of Degree of Magnitude"which states: "A wrong is greater insofar as it is caused by greater injustice. Thus the least wrong can sometimes be the greatest.” Pretty heady stuff.

 

If greeks were good at setting up legal rhetoric, the Romans took it to a new level. Romans love laws. Even more than laws, they love talking about laws: which ones are just, which ones are misinterpreted, which ones are being faunted. Arguably, arguing was their greatest art. One of the greasted of these contentious legal types of Cicero. In The orator Cicero emphasizes the importance of learning all of the ins and outs of the law if you want to become a rhetor, because it was assumed that you would be involved in the court system on one side or the other. Again, this was all personal—the idea of separate lawyers who represent you in court is only a few hundred years old.

 

So what does this have to do with what I’ll expect to see when I show up for jury duty? Well, I don’t think I’ll see the defendant and plantiff respresenting themselves, although they might, especially if this is one of those sweet small-claims deals. If not, there will be lawyers who rae taking the case not because of any great affection for the parties, but because they’re getting paid. And they will be making speeches, not because they have any great passion for it, but because they’re professionals good at what they do. Acutaly, if you think about the complaints that people make against lawyers in our society—that they’re insincere and slimy and only after the money—those are the same complainst people had of logographers and rhetors. The legal arguments I’ll hear will almost certainly invoke ideas of wrongdoing and talk about the character of the parties involved. And I and my five or eleven fellow jurors will get a say in justice, just like the hundreds of Athenian jurors back in the days of Isocrates.

 

 

Direct download: 15-10-26_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Forensic_Rhetoric.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Sor Juana

 

 

Juana Ramirez y Asbaje had a lot going against her from the beginning. She was born to unmarried parents and her father took off after two siblings were born. Being illegitimate with no dowery in 17th century Mexico was not a recipe for an easy life, but Juana had one thing going for her—she was very, very talented. Her overall brainyness was evident form her eariliet childhood. She used to sneak off to go read, in a time and culture when few people of her class and sex were literate, and she even learned to read and compose in Latin.

 

** But because “boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,” Juana was also helped out by her intense physical beauty and charm. These helped get her noticed by the king’s representative in Mexico, who patronized her studies.

 

One of the moments that I’d love most to observe in the Wayback Machine would be when Juana’s patron arranged for her to publically field questions from learned men. I can just imagine it: charming and beautiful Juana, still in her teens, surrounded by greybeards stroking their grey beards as she gives wise, thoughtout and pithy analysis on all sorts of erudite subjects. It must have been a rush for her, as well as the observers.

**

 

But remember how Juana had no money, no power and no rich husband? All that braininess and no where in 17th century Mexico to use it. She was convinced to join religious orders, even though she didn’t particularly feel a vocation to it. It was a place where she believed she could read, write and continue to study.

 

And she did, but the circumstances were not as favorable as they might have been. Sor Juana, as she was now, put together the biggest library in New Spain, complete with musical instruments and scientific objects as well as books and manuscripts. Her own writing, especially her volumes and volumes of poems, were prized by her patrons, one of whom, the Countess de Paredes, brought her writing to Spain, where Sor Juana became a literary sensation. In fact, all across the Spanish colonial world, Sor Juana’s wisdom, wit and skill as a writer were being acclaimed. Except in Mexico.

 

**

In Mexico, both the religious authorities directly around and the community as a whole was antsy about Sor Juana’s immense rhetorical prowess. Her astute observation and skill with language, the very things that they were praising in Spain and the other Spanish colonies were being held against her as not becoming a woman, and a nun at that. In fact, Sor Juana’s detailed letter of theological exposition was published without her consent as an example of her brilliance—but also as a criticism of her misusing her time. It’s hard to know how Juana felt when she discovered the publication of “Letter Worthy of Athena,” but we know what she did—she fought back with all of her brilliance and rhetorical power. She wrote a response letter that defended her own education and promoted women’s education in general.

 

**

Sor Juana gives examples of the many educated women in both secular and scriptureal accounts: Deborah the prophetess and the Queen of Sheba, Esther who persuaded a king and Aspasia, Pericles’ teacher, and all the Muses. And what about St. Paula and Queen Isabella?

 

These examples aren’t the only arrows in Sor Juana’s quiver. She also uses the perhaps misogynistic words of Paul the Aposotle against her accusers. Since Paul says that women should be silent in the church, he also describes “The aged women, in like manner, in holy attire, teaching well.” For the commentary Sor Juana cites, it becomes clear that women may not be preachingin public places, but participating in a private sphere where education among and within women is more edifying. As she says “What impropriety can there be if an older woman, learned in letters and holy conversation and customs, should have in her charge the education of young maids?” St. Jerome himself, Sor Jauna points out, thought ti was important to teach young girls the geneology of the prophets and the poetry of the psalms.

 

**

In fact, women can teach other women in ways that men can’t. If a male teacher might pressure his young female charges to impropriety, a female teacher can teach her charges more safely. “for if there were no greater risk than the simple indeceny of seating a completely unknown man at the side of a bashful woman[…] even so the modest demanded in interchange with men and in conversation with them gives sufficient cause to forbid this. Indeed, I do not see how the custom of men as teachers of women can be without its dangers” except, she adds quickly “in the strict tribunal of the confessional or the distand teachings of the pulpit or the remote wisdome of books” But for intimate teaching, the kind of one-on-one instruction that makes young people intimate with their tutors, women are best.

 

**

And Sor Juana posits that we definitely need teachers. Scriptures are not always very clear because of the metaphoric language used throughout. For example, she says, consider the injunction to “honor the purple” which means “obey the king” Without a tutor, a young girl might not pick up the metonymy and think about redecorating or dressing in purple more often, like the Unicorn Club in Sweet Valley Twins. And it’s not just parts of speech that young women need a tutor for—there are questions of culture and custom in understanding scripture too. Sor Juana points out that the kiss of greeting or the washing of feet or the phrase that a strong woman’s “husband is honorable in the gates” can’t be understood unless someone who has a lot of careful learning can instruct in the correct interpretation. Otherwise, “for lack of any Christian teaching” these “young girls go to perdition.”

 

Whether this remarkable defense of women’s rhetorical education had any impact on her detractors or whether they responded to it as all is unknown, but she kept learning and kept writing, gaining far more acclaim in Spain than in her native Mexico where pressures on Juana kept mounting. She sold her wonderful library, denounced her old life and died of disease. She was only in her forties.

**

 

Sor Juana’s life and writing stand as somber testiments that even talented rhetors who make strong arguments in beautiful language aren’t always successful in winning over their audiences. Like Cicero, who was beheaded despite his rhetorical genius, Sor Juana’s brilliance was unable to save her from her destractors. But also like Cicero, Juana’s reputation has only shone brighter with time, long after her critics have turned all to dust.

 

 

Direct download: 15-10-26_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Sor_Juana.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Speech acts debate

 

 

Mere rhetoric a podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movements that have shaped the rhetorical world.

 

 

Probably one of the best titles of any book in rhetorical history is J. L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words. In fact, this is often what I tell people is what rhetoric is all about: doing things with words. But actually, Austen had something more in mind when he prepared these 12 lectures for Harvard Universitiy in 1955. All words do something—encourage, persuade, shame— but this philosopher points out that some words are what he calls “performative”—their utterance does something. Think, for example of the phrase “I now declare you man and wife,” which creates a marriage in the utterance, or “I knight you Sir Patrick Stewart” or “We christen this ship the USS Lollipop” which do similar sorts of things through the words themselves.

 

Now Austin doesn’t think that words themselves are the only things that create whatever these performative speech acts create: after all, the state says that only certain people with certain qualifications are allowed to go around to marry or knight or christen. Austin says that speech acts can be “misfired” when the procedure is done incorrectly, under the incorrect circumstances or by incorrect people. If I try to knight you, the act wasn’t false—the words still make sense because there is such a thing as knighting, and they grammatically hang together—but you don’t get to call yourself a knight of the rhelm because the act misfired. The other way that these speech acts can fail to get off the ground is if they’re done insincerely or without the right internal condition. Think of marriages performed in plays or movies, or quoting someone else or any comment you’ve made that you’ve followed up with a “just kidding!” So although Austin is far more complex than that in practice, the crux of his lectures are this: words can do things, unless the authority isn’t right and unless the act was done insincerely. It’s a nice little book—not too big and with a good deal of the wry Britsh academic humor which the 1950s, along with tweed and horne glasses, brimmed with.

 

But it started something more.

 

Speech act theory, as Austin’s ideas became more developed, became the arena of one of the greatest debates in language philosophy: John Searle on the one and hand J. Derrida on the other.

 

Derrida, as you can imagine, was fascinated by much of this, including Austin’s rakish suggestion that we might not know when someone IS being sincere, so how do we know when the act has gone off? If I say, “just kidding” afterwards, does that undo the snide comment? For Derrida, jokes, sarcasm, or fiction don’t invalidate speech acts, because such non-serious or "parasitic" speech are in no way distinquishable from any other speech act: how do we know when someone is being insincere?

 

Searle wrote a short response to Derrida "Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida", saying that Austin wasn’t including those types of speech as performative speech acts because they were beyond the scope of his argument.

 

In “Limited Inc a b c …” Derrida claims that “no intention can ever be fully conscious” to an author(s) (73). This author(s), so decentralized and unoriginal, is not even necessary to their writing because “writing […] must be able to function in the absence of the sender, the receiver, the context of production, etc.” (48 These insincere utterances, are not simple mistakes of the serious. Derrida states that, “A corruption that is ‘always possible’ cannot be a mere extrinsic accident” (77). In this sense, Derrida reads Austin as viewing “the parasite [as] part of so-called ordinary language, and it is part of it as a parasite” (97); however, before he is done, Derrida will “reverse the order of dependence” and assert that this “so-called ordinary language” is, in fact, a subspecies of the parasite (104).

 

Anyway, they go back and forth like that for a while, which is not surprising, because Searle, as a analytic philosopher has a radically different view on the purpose of philosophy than Derrida the deconstructionist does. Mostly the argument involves the two of them complaining that the other doesn’t understand what they’re trying to do, as well as Searle saying that Derrida isn’t a serious enough philosopher who and Derrida saying Searle needs to remove a stick from his orifice. Enlightening stuff like that.

 

 

But both of them wanted some claim on Austin’s speech acts. Early in “Limited Inc a,b,c…” Derrida derisively referred to Sarl and (their) ilk as “self-made, auto-authorized heirs of Austin”—those who take themselves as the defenders of a created Austin orthodoxy (37). While Derrida did spend a lot of time talking about copyright, he didn’t spend too much of his limited ink (ha) talking about the implications of claiming and owning the speech act philosophy. He did criticize, heavily, though, the idea that his claim on Austin’s ideas were somehow illegitimate. He chaffed at the title of Sarl’s second chapter—“Derrida’s Austin”—and the claim that “Derrida’s Austin is unrecognizable” (qt in Limited 88, italics in original). Much of what he does in “Limited Inc” is to assert that his (mis?) interpretation of Austin is just as valid a continuing of the tradition as Sarl’s. In fact, there is a Sarl’s Austin as clearly as there is a Derrida’s.

 

And there is also a Sarl’s Derrida and Derrida’s Searle, with caused both philosophers a lot of frustration, often claiming that words and concepts attributed to them were not in the original and making frequent pleas that his interlocutors just read again his original piece and see what was actually there.

 

In some ways, it’s not surprising that an analytic philosopher and a deconstructionist would have a hard time understanding each other’s positions on something as crucial for each of them as whether there is a distinction between serious and non-serious language. But despite the frustration and often pettiness of the debate, I kind of love that it happened. It created some of Derrida and Searle’s best work, as they both engaged the opposition and found news ways to describe their positions on what Austin wrote. When you think about all the pages that Derrida and Searle produced in this particular controversy, it seems like the engagement was fruitful.

 

I don’t wan to editorialize too much, but it seems like sometimes we just disengage with theorists or thinkers we don’t agree with, instead of wrestling with them. Not that I think Searle and Derrida were always scholarly about their disagreement, but I rather like that they took each other seriously enough to engage. So me, for my part, I declare this a Very Fruitful Debate, for which speech act I have absolute authority.

 

 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Speech_Acts_Debate.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Remember when genres were easy? Second grade, we start learning about genres, about fiction and non-fiction (in fact one of my sister’s childhood brushes with literary greatness was asking whether Ray Bradbury enjoyed writing fiction or non-fiction best in a Q&A session after a reading.) A little while later, we learned more sophisticated genres—novel, poetry, drama, satire, fable, book report, coming-of-age story, faux epistolary, application letter, ethnogenesis, thesis. We tend to take genres for granted in our everyday, and even scholarly lives. But how do we learn to identify a genre when we see it? What goes into our interpretation of it? How—and when-- do we learn to write them ourselves? A branch of composition theory called Genre Theory investigations these questions and, in the process, uncovers more about the relationships among reading, writing and societal hegemony.

 

Genre has been around as a concept for a long time, not just in fourth grade, but back to the Greeks, which means back to—who else?—Aristotle. Aristotle had strong feelings about the sort of characteristics that lyric poetry and epic poetry, comedy and tragedy ought to contain. He wrote about much of this in a slim little volume called Poetics. These strict divisions between genres continued for a millennia, as Romans and later European Scholastics insisted that there was something different between an epic poem and a satire.

 

But what about a slightly satiric satire and a very satiric satire? What about satires about love or satires about politics? Were they different genres? This question flummoxed the taxonomies of the Enlightenment thinkers who studied genre. John Locke tried to break down genre to the atomic level and David Harltey went even further:

“How far the Number of Orders may go is impossible to say. I see no Contradiction in supposing it infinite, and a great Difficulty in stopping at any particular Size.”

In the 20th century, people began to look at genres not as just something that exists out there as a form, but as something that is constructed. We make something a genre when we call something a genre. But why should we even care to have genres? What’s the advantage of having a word called satire or for that matter dissertation, book review or podcast?

 

In 1984, Carolyn Miller examined this question from the perspective of rhetorical exigence. Lloyd Bitzer had written a text called “The Rhetorical Situation,” in which he argued that circumstances will present a moment of exigence, where audience, subject, everything is ripe for the rhetor to occupy the rhetorical moment. Miller continued from Bitzer’s idea to suggest that genres arise as people repeatedly come up against similar situations. If there’s a need for a group of people to say things in a certain way and that need comes up over and over again, that genre will spring into life as a shorthand for what the social situation required. Miller draws on the work of Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamison, who argued that it’s not so much that genres exist out there as fun taxonomies that we can fiddle around with, like Aristotle, but that genres, rather, tell us about the societies that produced them, about what their priorities are. For example, if biologists in the Enlightenment find themselves increasingly interested in knowing the methods and materials of an experiment, then each time a biologist writes he (and let’s be honest, it was usually a he) will begin to include more detailed information on methods and materials. Anticipating the needs or potential criticisms of his audience, the biologist will create a genre that answers those needs. Miller pointed out that these are perceived needs, not needs that exist somewhere else. Perceived needs, not needed needs. As she puts it, “At the center of action is a process of interpretation,” (156). Because the biologist wants his work to be read as a scientific article, not just a letter or a diary entry, he forms it in a way that lets it be read that way. You’ve probably run into this yourself when you were first writing a new genre: did you write your first literary analysis with a little too much summary because you were used to the genre of a book report? Have you ever written a cover letter or professional email in a way that was, for the situation, too breezy and casual? As Miller puts it, “Form shapes the response of the reader or listener to substance by providing instruction, so to speak, about how to perceive and interpret; this guidance disposes the audience to anticipate, to be gratified, to respond in a certain way” (157). Studying genre, for the rhetorician, then means “genres can serve both as an index to cultural patters and as tools for exploring the achievements of particular speakers and writers; for the student, genres serve as keys to understanding how to participate in the actions of a community” (165).

 

Miller’s article launched a movement in rhetoric. Called Rhetorical Genre Studies, or RGS, these scholars examine genres as social actions, which occur over and over again to meet their rhetorical situation.

 

Berkenkotter and Huckin expanded Miller’s argument: "Our thesis is that genres are inherently dynamic rhetorical structures that can be manipulated according to the conditions of use and that genre knowledge is therefor best conceptualized as a form of situated cognition embedded in disciplinary activities" (78). Whew. Let’s break that down a bit. Essentially they’re saying that every discipline, say biology, is going to require its adherents to think a certain way when approaching one of those rhetorical situations. To use a non-biology example, think of the image of a volcano erupting. Everyone is running away, except the photojournalist who responds to the repeatable situation of natural disaster by reading it as “great chance for a shot’ instead of “This could kill me.” So the photographer runs towards, instead of away from the volcano because she is a photographer. Similarly, there’s nothing about a biological experiment that means that it has to be written about in a scientific paper—you could write a haiku, but if you’re a biologist wanting to write to other biologists in a biology journal, you’re probably going to write a scientific article.

 

As you’re probably realizing, genres rely heavily on communities. In fact, in their very excellent book Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research and Pedagogy, Anis S. Bawarshi and Mary Jo Reiff point out: “Since part of what defines a genre is its placement within a system of genre relations within and between activity systems, genres cannot be defined or taught only through their formal features” (103). It’s not enough to say, “A scientific article includes a methods section.” You have to think about why biologists include method sections, how “doing biology writing” situates the author within a world that values description of methods. Because that may change. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that genres will change as the discourse communities around them change. Charles Bazerman, who made a long study of the way that scientific articles have changed over 300 years, has said “Genres are not just forms. Genres are forms of life, ways of being.”

 

 

There’s a lot more that we could say about genre, but don’t have space here. There’s Anne Freadman notion of “uptake, ” for instance. And the work of Anis Barwashi. And lots more. But the critical thing is that genre theory describes how communities that overlap and change creating these “forms of life, ways of being” that can be recognizable, whether in a lab report, a literary analysis. Or, who knows, even a podcast.

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Genres.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

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